Coming and Going

"I guarantee this piece will be one of the public's favorites," says Vanderlip, who predicts it will be as popular as John DeAndrea's sculpture "Linda" (which is not in Welcome Back!) and James Turrell's "Trace Elements" (which is). In "Trace Elements," a mixed-media installation from 1991 that's been reinstalled in its own gallery just around the corner, perceptualist master Turrell gets the same light-driven effect as Irwin, but on a much larger scale. His piece comprises a darkened room with a dimly lit horizontal rectangle that seems to hover at one end. This stunning, all-encompassing environment is another gift from Tieken.

The gallery adjacent to Turrell's is the largest of several devoted to Welcome Back!, and two-thirds of it is filled with another Tieken gift, Jeanne Silverthorne's dense and disturbing rubber-and-polyester installation "The Studio Stripped Bare." Silverthorne, an up-and-comer in the installation world, has reproduced her workshop-style studio in black rubber; replicas of fluorescent light fixtures hang from the ceiling, sculptures sit on work tables, and the floor is an abstract-expressionist tangle of phony electric wires. A piece this edgy is sure to be a controversial one.

Opposite the Silverthorne are several abstract paintings, including "Abacus Sliding," a smeary but spectacular Sam Gilliam from 1977 that combines abstract expressionism with minimalism. Falling completely within the abstract-expressionist camp is a magnificent untitled 1956 piece by Cy Twombly, on loan to the DAM, in which the artist has laid scribbles in crayon and graphite against an oil-painted field.

Gifts from Tieken crop up again in two of the smaller back galleries dedicated to Welcome Back! Jim Dine's monumental 1989 polychrome bronze "Wheat Fields" combines brightly painted castings of objects, including an oversized skull, that have been mounted on a casted tiller complete with tractor tires. In another gallery, just to the left, is "Untitled (For A.C.)," a signature piece by Dan Flavin from 1992 whose colored fluorescent lights create a geometric relief. The Flavin is placed just across from a piece that has been acquired not by Tieken, but for her. Richard Serra's "Basic Maintenance," a forbidding hot-rolled-steel sculpture from 1987, was purchased by the DAM in honor of Tieken's contributions.

Welcome Back! also includes displays that can be viewed as individual exhibits within the larger show. In one side gallery are a dozen type-C print photographs by Sean Scully that provide a tease for the watercolor show devoted to Scully scheduled for this June. In another side gallery--soon to be known as the "Merage Family Photography Space"--are photographs gathered from the DAM's collection by photo curator Jane Fudge. These experimental, oversized works deal with conceptions of the body; standouts include the vaporous purple and black 1989 portrait "Methane Breather," by Todd Watts, and pioneer deconstructivist Robert Heinecken's 1967 "Breast Bomb," a cut-up and reassembled figure study.

An especially topical exhibit within Welcome Back! is the one dedicated to images of smoking. Some of the pieces, such as Luigi Lucioni's spectacular 1934 oil painting "Portrait of Stanley Lathrop," make smoking look glamorous. But most take a stand against the habit, including 1995's infamous "Party-Time," by Damien Hirst, which consists of a white-plastic ashtray filled with cigarette butts and spent matches. The piece has been praised in the national art press and lampooned by Morley Safer on 60 Minutes. Though this marks the first time it's been seen in Denver, Vanderlip's been fielding complaint calls about it for more than a year. "People swear to me they've seen it at the museum!" she says incredulously. Well, now they really can see it at the museum--and the complaint calls are not likely to stop.

Controversial acquisitions aren't the only way in which Vanderlip has demonstrated the courage of her convictions in Welcome Back! According to museum director Sharp, his outspoken curator also single-handedly stopped the DAM from making a serious tactical error: the deaccessioning of an important surrealist Picasso. That painting, the oil-on-canvas "Still Life" from 1937, which anticipates the artist's famous "Guernica," one of the great paintings of all time, had already formally been let go when Vanderlip spoke up in protest. She rallied friends in the art-history community to write the board of trustees and urge its members to reconsider. Thankfully, Vanderlip won the fight, and the Picasso stayed.

"Still Life" shows up in a gallery devoted to modern art from the early to mid-twentieth century. The selection includes another Picasso, this one on loan, the fabulous 1946 surrealist oil on canvas "Femme Assise." Other highlights include two spectacular cubist works: "Still Life With Bottle of Bordeaux," a 1919 oil on canvas by Juan Gris, and the 1921 "Femme a Genoux," by Fernand Leger. Interestingly enough, the DAM's Picasso, the Gris and the Leger were all gifts of Denver artist Marion Hendrie. Like Tieken, Hendrie had a huge impact on the museum's collection when she donated the paintings in 1966.

These older modernist paintings will remain on display for some time, but much of Welcome Back! will be coming down next month, so don't put off making a visit. And though the show may prompt some melancholy feelings over Tieken's departure, don't cry just yet. In the fall, the DAM will present a show organized by Tieken, an exhibit focusing on the Poindexter collection of abstract-expressionist paintings from the Montana Historical Society. Until then, the best way to bid Tieken a fond farewell is to go see Welcome Back!

Welcome Back!, through May 31 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 640-4433.

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